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In council motion, La Linea’s political parties present united front on Brexit

The political parties that make up La Linea’s city council unanimously approved a motion on Monday setting out concerns about Brexit and calling for urgent action and investment in areas ranging from border infrastructure to education and employment.

The motion said La Linea and its people had been “linked to cross-border relations with our neighbour” since the city was founded, adding that Brexit presented serious challenges as a result.

“There is no doubt that Gibraltar plays a determining role in La Linea’s socioeconomic reality and that this has marked the past, conditioned the present and is generating great uncertainty about the future of our city, given that both people and the economy are subject to cross-border relations, even if Spain does not recognise the fence as a border as such,” the motion said.

The parties agreed that politics linked to sovereignty had created “important highs and lows” for La Linea, currently one of the most deprived and rundown areas of Spain with high unemployment, school absenteeism and a brain drain of university graduates.

The motion also cited other challenges including air quality due to shipping in the bay and busy roads leading to the border, organised crime and a lack of investment and employment opportunities.

“This makes our municipality unique and means it also has a unique set of needs,” the motion said.

The 29-page motion sets out the numerous initiatives carried out by La Linea over the past four years since the result of the EU referendum and the UK’s decision to leave the bloc.

It also listed a series of demands to the central government in Madrid in respect of initiatives La Linea’s councillors believe are necessary in order to help mitigate the impact of Brexit on the city.

The motion repeated calls for La Linea to be given a special fiscal status, much along the lines of that in place in Ceuta and Melilla, adding this was vital in order to address the imbalance between taxation in La Linea and in Gibraltar.

It called too for a more flexible framework within which to assign public spending, adding that La Linea’s special characteristics required a “more relaxed” approach.

The motion also highlighted the need for new infrastructure to create a more “dynamic” border and ensure fluidity for cross-border commercial and leisure traffic.

It also urged creation of a targeted training and employment plan to address the city’s 40% unemployment rate, adding that as of October, there were 10,854 people registered as out of work.

La Linea’s council also called for a seat on the administrative board of the Algeciras port authority, which owns and administers much of the seafront in the city which could be developed for leisure and commercial purposes.

The motion also called for a new primary care centre to ensure fast and adequate healthcare for the citizens of La Linea, and for the redevelopment of the municipal stadium, a “poisoned gift” dating back to the 1969 border closure.

The motion also demanded additional law enforcement resources and physical infrastructure, including the relocation of police headquarters and courts as a catalyst for regeneration.

Finally, the parties urged the construction of new social housing and an impetus to efforts to establish a European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation to bring together community and business interests on both sides of the border in order to explore joint initiatives.

La Linea mayor Juan Franco highlighted “the united front on such a sensitive issue”, adding that irrespective of political loyalties, all the city’s parties had come together to call for a solution that “looks to protect the interests of our neighbours, the workers, businesses, La Linea de la Concepcion.”

“And all of this with just a month to go before the exit of the UK and, by extension, Gibraltar from the European Union, something which could prove a turning point for our city and our economy,” he said.

CRACKS APPEAR

Just hours after the motion was agreed, however, the cracks began to appear.

On Tuesday, the PSOE in La Linea distanced itself from the motion, even though it was approved unanimously by the city’s council, including the party’s own councillors.

In a statement, the La Linea branch of PSOE said the text should have done more to underline the positive aspects of La Linea’s relationship with Gibraltar and transmit “a message of hope”.

“For the reason, we don’t understand why the [motion] focuses more on negative aspects – for example, the smuggling of goods – than on the positives of which there are no doubt many more, such as is the case in the areas of employment, the economy and the social, family and neighbourly relations that make up our day to day,” the statement said.

The party said the motion was “a wish list” from La Linea’s mayor, Juan Franco, to central and regional authorities in Spain.

It said the text promoted the idea that “no one helps La Linea” when, in reality, most of the projects under way in the city currently were being financed by institutions governed by PSOE.

The motion had called on the Spanish Government to invest in border infrastructure to ensure frontier fluidity, but La Linea’s PSOE said this investment had already been made and that works were currently ongoing.

The party bemoaned too that the motion made no reference to the impact on air quality of the nearby industrial complex, attributing that problem instead to shipping in the bay and heavy traffic on roads through the city.

It was critical too of other issues raised in the motion, including a call for greater law enforcement resources and infrastructure, and even the redevelopment of the municipal stadium.

The motion, La Linea’s PSOE concluded, was an attempt by Mr Franco and his team to “divert attention” and blame others for their “lack of management” of the city’s affairs.

“We believe a great opportunity has been missed to develop and agree a document based on the city’s real needs and above all rigorously based on facts, instead of just asking for the sake of asking as if this was a letter to the Three Kings,” the statement said.

EDITOR'S NOTE: A version of this article published in our print edition wrongly stated that the motion cites the San Roque industrial complex as having a negative impact on air quality in La Linea. In fact, the document mentions only shipping and traffic in this context. The online article has been corrected.